Terence Crawford – Undisputed First, Greatness Later?

By Babajide Sotande-Peters

Photo credit: Will Hart

Terence Crawford has the rare opportunity to simultaneously hold all four title belts in the light-welterweight division on Saturday night versus an unlikely adversary in Julius Indongo. However for Crawford, the real battle most likely will come after his hand is raised.

In Julius Indongo, fight fans have a rare and admirable story to become invested in. The 34 year old Olympian has enjoyed the unlikeliest of rises through the light-welterweight division, as one looping left hand that he landed seconds into his IBF title showdown versus Eduard Troyanovsky last December in Moscow changed his career and life forever. The shot, which rendered the undefeated Russian champion unconscious, plunged Indongo from the obscurity of the Country Club Resort in homeland Windhoek, Namibia to something resembling a throwback globetrotting extravaganza out of the 70’s.

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When a rematch option was not pursued by the vanquished party, Indongo became hot property on the market, with a division filled with prospects and veterans eager to get their shot on the sport’s newest valuable but unknown proposition.

The plucky Scottish workhorse and WBA champion Ricky Burns was the eventual winner of the Indongo sweepstakes, he himself forging an unlikely late career resurgence. However, in the space of 12 lopsided rounds in Glasgow in April, Indongo had wrecked another man’s dreams and pushed himself further into the spotlight. A display of unorthodox front-running left an ageing Burns bewildered and unable to produce any meaningful resistance. So in the space of 36 1/2 minutes of prizefighting, the Namibian stood on the brink of supremacy in the 140lbs division.

Peter Cziborra/Reuters

Unfortunately for Indongo and the admirers he has acquired, this particular road to glory has a near impenetrable roadblock at the final destination. All directions point to the remaining two title belts in the division, located in Omaha, Nebraska — currently in the possession of the best fighter in the sport.

In the four years since he was fully exposed to the boxing public, Terence Crawford has been nothing short of a revelation. Consistent displays of methodical diligence, dynamic creativity and cerebral ruthlessness have set the 29 year old American apart from not just the fighters in the two weight divisions he has been champion in, but also the majority of fighters in all divisions. Whether it be the wide decision victories over the likes of Victor Postol (in their unification bout last summer) or the merciless beatdowns and school sessions over the likes of former Olympic Gold Medalist Felix Diaz, Crawford’s unique talent is evident and he has positioned himself perfectly to become the sport’s first undisputed champion in over a decade.

Ed Mulholland / HBO

The size, rhythm and power of Indongo will all be things that Crawford needs to navigate in the early stages of Saturday’s bout, but the Nebraska native’s in-ring intelligence ensures that he gives himself the best opportunity of doing such safely. And once Indongo’s best characteristics are taken away from him, it makes way for Crawford to seek and destroy as he pleases. In Crawford, Indongo finds his near physical equal and his technical superior, with all signs pointing towards a long punishing affair for the Namibian.

Despite what awaits him, in many ways this is Julius Indongo’s pinnacle in terms of profile and earning potential. But for Crawford, this rare chance to unify all the belts is the perfect ignition for a journey heading in a different direction altogether. This marks the third installment of a new ESPN and Top Rank TV partnership – with the previous episode featuring WBO Super-Featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko, another potential claimant to the position as Boxing’s premier fighter, utterly clowning a fringe featherweight contender in Miguel Marriaga for seven rounds after Marriaga had previously fallen short against WBO Featherweight champion Oscar Valdez earlier in the year.

The juxtaposition of Crawford and Lomachenko presents some interesting points of comparison. The Marriaga victory for Lomachenko was met with an element with justified dis-creditation — sure he looked spectacular but tougher tests must be sought out sooner rather than later if the Ukrainian is really to ascend to the level of notoriety which matches his skill level. That same reaction awaits Crawford should his fight with Indongo be as one sided as he is capable of making it. The acquisition of belts is perfect for the record books and the photo collections, but the true greatness of an individual is affirmed by the quality of the dance partners they conquer. It is this level which eludes both Lomachenko and Crawford and the fear is that the nature of the fragmented sport might see this greatness elude Crawford permanently.

The next step after Indongo will more than likely see Crawford move up to the high profile and talent-laden Welterweight division. However the rival promotional fragmentations within which divisional rivals co-exist in make navigating a path to greatness that much harder. The majority of the Welterweight talent pool (which includes fellow high flying Americans Keith Thurman and Errol Spence Jr) are under Al Haymon and the Premier Boxing Champions banner, meaning that they will more than likely be matched against each other before doing business across the street is even contemplated. In the recent setback to Manny Pacquiao’s legendary but rapidly fading career, Crawford lost his most convenient launchpad to extended notoriety – all of which leaves viable options which add to the dissatisfaction of critics and fail to attract Crawford to the wider audience which can make his pursuit of greatness that much easier.

He is now more or less in his prime years and that will undoubtedly come with the pressure to maintain expectations inside the squared circle as well as the lingering hope that he can navigate the trap doors which co-exist outside of it. If all of this is possible, then observers can look forward to the prospect of witnessing something rather special in the years that follow.

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